After being obliterated in Week 1, Syracuse now has to face Pittsburgh. It should be an easy cover for the Panthers at the top sports bettings sites, right?
Syracuse Orange vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Saturday, September 19, 2020 – 12:00 PM ET at Heinz Field
My main idea behind my NCAAF Betting Pick is that I have no idea how Syracuse will score any points. A big reason for my doubt is Pittsburgh’s defense. Last year, the Panthers owned the ACC’s third-best scoring defense.
Nationally, their pass defense ranked 40th and their run defense ranked 14th. Eight starters return from last year’s defense, thus creating significant continuity.
Syracuse Rush Attack vs. Pittsburgh Run Defense
Like it did last year, Pittsburgh has one of the ACC’s strongest defensive lines. Controlling the trenches will be huge for keeping Syracuse one-dimensional.
Last season, the Orange relied heavily on Moe Neal in the backfield. Neal had a couple of good performances against subpar run defenses. But overall, he was far from spectacular as he accumulated 846 rushing yards on five YPC. It was a sad reflection of Syracuse’s ground game that he was relied upon as heavily as he was. He is gone. In its opener, Syracuse felt acutely its inability to rely on a single running back.
Quarterback Tommy DeVito was actually the team’s leading rusher with 30 yards on the ground. Neither Syracuse running back averaged more than 2.4 YPC. Expect little help from a Syracuse offensive line that returns most of its starters from a unit that ranked bottom-half nationally, according to most metrics. Its chemistry has been marred by repeated position switches.
Generally, the talent level isn’t there. In fact, its current left guard was recruited as a defensive tackle, and he had focused on playing tight end and full back.
Orange Receivers vs. Pittsburgh Secondary
The same story continues. Syracuse misses its top guy. Trishton Jackson easily led the team’s pass-catchers. While he accumulated 66 receptions and 1,023 yards, Syracuse’s next top receiver only caught 37 passes for 559 yards. Jackson was DeVito’s go-to guy and, as such, he masked a number of DeVito’s weaknesses as a passer.
Whereas Syracuse regresses at this position, Pittsburgh’s secondary remains mature at every position while maintaining its chemistry. In particular, safeties Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin, who could have opted for the NFL Draft. They chose to return after combining for 181 tackles, over 20 pass breakups, and one interception. They are helped by a Panther pass rush that returns mostly everyone from a defensive line that ranked among the nation’s leaders in sack percentage and sacks per game.
Plus, Rashad Weaver is back. He had missed last year due to injuries after he led the team in 2018 in sacks. Keep an eye on his status. While his knee is great, COVID may keep him out. Particularly with Orange receivers struggling to get open, Syracuse continued to look like last year's 126th-ranked protection unit as it gave up seven sacks to the Tar Heels.
Defensively, Syracuse was hurt by the team’s lack of offense. This lack allowed Syracuse’s defense to wear down by not letting it have breathing time off the field. Rust, conceptual problems, and sundry adjustments were to be expected. This defense has a new coordinator and a new 3-3-5 scheme.
However, the Orange effort was extremely promising, especially considering this expected obstacle, for the first three quarters. In this time period of the game, UNC only scored 10 points. One positive improvement relative to last year was the Orange’s ability to reach the quarterback. After ranking 51st in sacks per game last year, Syracuse ranks 14th in the category right now.
With more involvement in pressuring the quarterback from its linebackers, Syracuse promises to continue adding pass rush. It’s true that Syracuse started giving up more points in the fourth quarter after being worn down. Nevertheless, their offensive ineptitude also kept the score low. UNC was able to put the game far out of reach and take its foot off the gas pedal.
Pittsburgh’s Lackluster Offense
This is a Pittsburgh offense that regularly struggled to reach 20 points last year. Kenny Pickett is not a big-numbers guy. The Panther quarterback fails to average seven yards per attempt, and he doesn’t throw many more touchdowns than interceptions.
He’s not helped by a low-caliber ground game that, even in its opener against Austin Peay, failed to feature a running back who could run for more than 43 yards. Plus, he misses his departed top receiver Maurice Ffrench.
We see continuity in a Syracuse offense whose conception of balance involves posing negligible threat both on the ground and in the air. We also see continuity in a Pittsburgh defense that is anchored by a powerful defensive line and a stacked secondary.
Syracuse’s defense makes an already strong "under" play even more persuasive. Its new 3-3-5 defense can only improve with more time after fielding a solid debut performance. Further damaged by the early, noon start, both offenses will sputter, thus proving that top sportsbooks have set a betting total for this game that is way too high.
So for all of the above reasons, let’s go take the under 49.5 with BetOnline tipped at -110.